Toyota Motor Europe wants to lure more buyers to its updated RAV-4 sport-utility and new Previa minivan by offering them with diesel engines for the first time.
Although Europe will be the smallest major continental market for the RAV-4 and Previa, Toyota chose to unveil new versions of each in Geneva. That signals Toyota's commitment to grow sales in Europe, said company executives.
Both new vehicles will go on sale in Europe this autumn. They will be available with 2.0-liter common-rail diesel engine. These engines will only be offered in Europe, said Shinichi Kato, executive vice president of the parent Toyota Motor Co.
'Europe is extremely important in our global strategy and we are putting our operations here on a very local footing,' said Kato. 'Toyota in Europe will be a truly European organization, with truly European roots, and a truly European future.'
Toyota Motor Europe said it met its sales goal of 600,000 units last year, going slightly over target. Exact numbers were not given. Toyota is the first Japanese maker to reach that level in Europe.
The increase was attributed to the introduction of new models. Sales of the Yaris supermini - despite availability of only one body style and engine - reached 134,000 units. Toyota ended the year with a backlog of 40,000 Yaris orders.
The RAV-4 three- and five-door and the new Previa are three of seven new models Toyota said it will launch in Europe this year.
Earlier this year, Toyota rolled out a face-lifted Corolla. The replacement MR2 sports car that debuted last September at the Frankfurt auto show will be introduced this spring.
The Prius hybrid car, re-engineered for Europe and shown in Geneva, and will go on sale in the autumn.
Toyota did not announce what the seventh new launch will be.
By the end of 2000 the average age of Toyota's range in Europe will be 1.5 years compared with 3.5 years at the beginning of 1999, said Juan Jose Diaz Ruiz, executive vice president of sales and marketing.
The Previa minivan, based on a new platform, will only be sold in Europe and Japan, said Kato. The Sienna minivan, based on the Camry, is for the US market.
The Previa has been switched to front-wheel drive, giving it more interior room. It also gets a new 2.4-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine with variable valve timing that produces 156hp.
Toyota hopes to push Previa sales in Europe to 18,000 annually. Peak sales in Europe for the previous-generation model were 16,000 units.
Toyota has greater aspirations for the new RAV-4 models. It aims to sell 40,000 units a year, up from a peak of about 34,000 units, said Diaz Ruiz.
Both RAV-4 models have been sharply redesigned, adding more traditional sport-utility front spoilers and rear bumpers.
Toyota also showed the Yaris Cabrio concept, the third vehicle based on the supermini. The open-top car is lower and longer than the Yaris and Yaris Verso, but uses the same platform. The front spoiler is also sportier and integrated into the bumper. The cabriolet's rear is where Toyota stylists had the most fun, giving the wedge-shaped car a small spoiler.
The convertible is expected to go into production.
Also at Geneva were the Lexus LS430 luxury sedan, and the new RX300 sport-utility.